CHN: Unemployment Benefits Restored for Millions of Workers
After various failed attempts to reinstate the federal unemployment insurance program, Congress succeeded in passing a bill, H.R. 4213, that continues the program through the end of November. President Obama signed the bill into law on July 21. The legislation will allow long-term unemployed who exhaust their state jobless benefits, typically available for 26 weeks, to receive up to an additional 73 weeks of federal benefits. Not included in the legislation, however, is the additional $25 in weekly benefits that was originally provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The restoration of the program comes nearly 7 weeks after it was allowed to expire on June 2. The National Employment Law Project (NELP) estimates that close to 3 million people lost their benefits during this time period. (For a breakdown by state see NELP’s table.) The legislation will allow for these workers to receive their benefits retroactively.
For weeks Senate leaders had been working to put together a jobs bill that could pass that chamber and that would bring needed relief to states and individuals and spur job growth. In addition to continuing the extended federal unemployment insurance program, earlier iterations of H.R. 4213 also included aid to states to cover rising Medicaid costs, additional funding to extend the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund, and money for youth job programs and the new National Housing Trust Fund. Extensions of a series of tax breaks that expired at the end of 2009 were also originally part of H.R. 4213. However, this broader package and even scaled-back versions fell just a few votes shy of passage because a minority in the Senate was concerned over the costs of these programs and their effect on the deficit. (For a full account of the bill’s history see the July 2 Human Needs Report article.)
On July 20 Carte P. Goodwin, who is replacing the late Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), was sworn into office and provided the 60th vote needed to advance the pared-down version of H.R. 4213 that the President signed into law. On July 21, with only a simple majority needed, the Senate passed the measure, 59-39. All Democrats except Ben Nelson (D-FL), as well as Republican Senators Olympia Snowe (ME) and Susan Collins (ME) voted for the bill. The next day the House voted 272 to 152 in favor (31 Republicans voted for the bill; 10 Democrats opposed).
Although advocates are relieved that the Unemployment Insurance program has been reinstated through the end of November, there is concern for the passage of the other relief components that were stripped from the bill such as the Medicaid state aid money and the TANF Emergency Fund extension. It is now considered unlikely that these provisions will be taken up before September.